PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — Living With A Trump Presidency

I knew he would win.

I’ve known it since last fall when I heard two stories on NPR in the same week. One was on the use of language in the power of persuasion — a rhetorical feat Trump has mastered. The other story focused on how people turn to authoritative power when they are uncertain or scared. After hearing those stories together, I knew, internally, the rust belt would turn red.

Nonetheless, I poured my heart and soul into doing what I could to promote a vision of America that I believed in, one that valued tolerance, equality and love. I made phone calls, I knocked on doors, I gave money.

And I spent hours and hours and hours full of fear and trembling. Obsessing about Trump. Highlighting my fears of where he deviated from societal norms for discourse and the rules of civility. To the point where one of my sons literally banned me from talking about Trump to him.

A perusal of my Facebook page reveals the warning signs I pointed out — always deliberately using his words and actions, not silly memes or putdowns. Original source material to reveal who he was.

When I thought I was dying the Friday before the election, due to a freak allergic reaction to my son’s dusty dorm room (hey, kids, you actually can die from a dirty room), honestly what went through my mind as my blood pressure kept dropping and I was losing consciousness was, “At least I don’t have to live in Trump’s America.”

So when Wednesday rolled around, I had a lot of people reach out to me. They were worried about me — wondering if I was OK, how I was dealing with it, and if I was avoiding bridges. Especially high ones with rushing water beneath.

I won’t lie. Wednesday was tough. I wore black and felt numb. But I also woke up with a new sense of resolve. I would pour the energy I put into electing Hillary and obsessing about Trump into making the world — and my America — the place I want it to be.

I contacted a friend — an African-American Muslim immigrant — and Sunday, I begin helping teach English to refugees and immigrants.

I went to a meeting with others who are concerned about the environment and the rights of Native Americans, envisioning ways we can be supportive of the peaceful protesters at Standing Rock.

I began focusing on partnering with Camions of Care, a student-led organization that focuses on providing feminine hygiene products to homeless women. They are starting a chapter in Fargo, and I want to be a patron to support these women who are often victims of abuse and degradation. Women who have fallen between the cracks.

I plan in the days, weeks, months and years ahead to invest in the America I believe in, where the last, the lost and the least have a safety net. Where the vulnerable are protected. A place where civility matters.

But my mind races with other concerns, as well. As I scroll through my various social media sights, I keep reading posts from people who want to make it clear that even though they voted for Trump, they do not support his racist and xenophobic rhetoric, his misogyny, his crude discourse and hate speech.

And, truthfully, I believe that. I HAVE to believe that. I cannot and do not want to live in a country where a quarter of the people believe that what he has said and what he has done is acceptable for someone who is our leader. That it is OK to bully, abuse, and insult.

I know that there were people who voted for him simply because, in their mind, for a host of reasons — often related to the Supreme Court— they felt they had no choice. While I don’t agree with that choice, in order to move forward, I understand that it was more than just support of Donald Trump that led them to cast their vote.

I know good and decent people of faith, for example, who cast their vote for Trump. After serving as a pastor in rural areas for more than 26 years, I can’t join those who decry all Trump voters as morally bereft because I know that is not true.

But here is the challenge I plan to present to anyone who says that they voted for him but don’t agree with much of what he says or the way he says it. Show me.  Show me and the frightened refugees and immigrants, the confused young people and the terrified Muslims, as well as the bullied children with disabilities at schools and the people of color who are facing profound and unleashed racism. Show them that Trump’s rhetoric is not your rhetoric and that through your actions you want to be an agent of peace who bridges the great divide that exists in this nation.

There is an old saying, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you.” So I am asking, what evidence in what you are doing, and where you are giving your time, your talent and your money, shows that you support an inclusive and loving, safe country that respects women and welcomes the stranger? That kindness toward those who differ from you or disagree with you helps define you.

I am asking my fellow Americans who do not support crude language, divisive discourse, racist undertones and violence toward and objectification of women, to join me in my mission to work toward making this the America we want to see.

The simple truth is that in the days since Trump has been elected, there have been more documented acts of hate speech directed toward people of color and immigrants than there were even the day before. That is because the small portion — I hope— of people who fully embraced what Trump espoused feel that they have been given license to abuse, bully and torment.

So those who are fearful of what a Trump presidency might mean are experiencing a horrific validation of their fears.

And I truly believe that the vast majority of Americans are horrified by that, including most of the people who voted for Trump.

So the question I ask of those who did is, “What are you going to do to stop it?  How are you going to step up? What are you going to do?” Because that is our only way forward, as a nation, together. Standing up for what is good, and right, and true to the very values upon which this nation was founded,
“with liberty and justice for all.”

I am going to hope and pray that Trump changes his tune. That he starts to “make nice.” And that he will actively condemn people who are executing acts of hate in his name. That he will make it clear, without a shadow of a doubt, that even if he said those things, that is not what he meant and more importantly, going forward, not what he will tolerate. That he will act like a gracious and dignified leader for all who dwell in this land.

But no matter what he does, we need to cling to our values and principles. And we need to have the evidence by how we live our lives, how we deliberately reach out, where we volunteer and how we speak up when we hear hate speech, misogyny and slurs, to show that is what we believe.

None of us can be passive anymore. This is our America, and the only way to bridge the gap between our world views is to stand up for the values that unite us. No matter who you voted for.

One thought on “PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — Living With A Trump Presidency”

  • Jeff Achen November 16, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    Thankyou Paula, this is wonderful in so many ways. I’ve definitely been struggling with this as well and know many good and loving people who voted for Trump. This piece is comforting and helps me remain positive.


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